We rose before the sun to line up among the masses at CityWalk Universal Studios. When the megaphone voice yelled, "Go!," I started my iPod and my Garmin and my legs. I dedicated each mile of the race to someone I love:
Mile 1: My dad. Quirky. An expert in many things. Fun. Passionate. A comforting presence in my life.
Mile 2: My mom. Gentle. Positive. A kind and loving grandma to my boys. Makes the best chocolate chip cookies.
Mile 3: My father-in-law. Smart. Happy. Twinkling eyes. Has a unique and personal relationship with each of his three grandsons.
Mile 4: My mother-in-law. Supportive. Thoughtful. Generous. No pretense. Taught her 4 sons to work hard and be respectful. Can always be counted on for fruit snacks.
Mile 5: Michael (Brother #1). Seeker of peace. (+ Michael's super sweet girlfriend Paula)
Mile 6: David (Brother #2). Seeker of adventure. (+ David's fun and lovely girlfriend Natalie)
Mile 7: Jacob (Brother #3). Seeker of truth.
Mile 8: Rachel (Little Sis). My best friend. Makes me laugh harder than anyone else in the world.
Mile 9: Madame Falsone. My junior high school French teacher, and one of my all-time favorite teachers. We learned the day before the race that she passed away. In her obituary (which it seems she wrote herself), we learned that she was also a runner.
Mile 10: The basher. Giant smile. Full of wiggles and love. Endless energy. Loves soft things like blankets, stuffed animals, and sticking his hand down my shirt.
Mile 11: The punk: Sweetheart. Smart. Creative. Friendly. Always asks me after a training run, "How was your run, Mom?"
Mile 12: Tim. My #1 support. The reason I was able to take an entire weekend to run a race and be with friends. The best dad for my boys. Expects me to be my best self.
Mile 13: Me.
The last 0.1 mile: God.
The first 3 miles were tough. It always takes me a while to settle into my groove. Among the 4 friends who were running this race, I was bringing up the rear. I knew that Mariani and Brit were competing for 1st place, but I had my sight set on Tara, who had shot out ahead of me at the beginning. Even among the crowds, it was easy to spot the pink flower in her hair. When I saw her around mile 4, I knew that I could overtake her by increasing my pace just a bit. A few minutes later, I sidled up next to her and said hello before racing ahead. It was only about 2 miles later that I had to visit the facilities, so I knew I'd have to concede my 3rd place spot. Fortunately, the line wasn't too long and I was back on the road in no time. Soon thereafter, I spotted Mariani, and then Brittany, who was mere feet behind the only man on our "team," even though his legs are about a foot longer than hers. "Beat him!" I yelled to her. "BEAT HIM!" They had already passed the turnaround point and were headed back the way we had come.
By the way, I was a little hesitant about running an out-and-back race. On my long runs, I like to map a route that will take me to a destination other than the one from which I came; I like to have new scenery for every mile. But it was at about mile 4 or 5 that the leaders of the race blew my mind. We, the masses, were running on the right side of the road, leaving the entire left half empty. Out of nowhere, two black men (Kenyans perhaps?) blasted by me! I actually shouted "Woah!" They appeared to be doing the splits in between each footfall. Their stride was unbelievable. Their power, their speed, their form. It was all so inspiring.
Miles 4-9 were my sweet spot. At the beginning, I felt like I was being passed left and right. In the middle, I finally felt like I was the one doing the passing. I was smiling, cheering the leaders, weaving through the crowds with small bursts of speed, and staying ahead of my goal time by 3 1/2 minutes. I passed Tara again, and this time I knew I would stay ahead.
Around mile 10, I started feeling the distance behind me. Then mile 11 hit, and the $@&% hit the fan.
The last 2 miles of the half marathon were one giant, ruthless hill. Now, I run hills at home, some of them quite steep. But they end. This one didn't. We climbed 550 feet in 2 miles. After running 11 already. At mile 12, I thought to myself, "I am never doing this again!" There were traffic signs on the right side of the street that warned, "No Stopping. Tow Zone." My legs and my spirit were giving out, but I knew that if I stopped to walk like so many around me, I would never get going again. So I obeyed the signs. My pace slowed to 11 minutes for each of those 2 miles, but I never stopped fighting. After all, I was dedicating those miles to my man and myself, two people I didn't want to disappoint.
Finally, the incline turned flat, then downhill for the last quarter mile. I looked down at my watch and realized that I was mere seconds from my goal time of 2 hours 5 minutes, so I willed my arms and legs to start pumping. I sprinted the last stretch, hoping and praying that I would come in under goal.